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Desperate times in the beloved country

Mark Borrie – owner at Hawksmoor guesthouse and wine farm, long-time investor and die-hard believer in South Africa – sent us this note pointing us to Kobus van der Merwe’s impassioned personal plea to President Cyril Ramaphosa that the government reconsider the alcohol ban that is threatening the very survival of Wolfgat, ‘World Restaurant of the Year, 2019’.

Mark writes: “I’m probably the last person to see Kobus’s impassioned post, but I feel the need to share.”

Hawksmoor House guesthouse has been shut for more than 120 days. Like so many around them, Hawksmoor must pay farm staff, who must feed their children.

Regrettably, says Mark, they had to offer voluntary redundancy to a loyal guesthouse team, “but there remains many essential bills, including security, without any income from regular guests, nor from his loyal client base of wine buyers.

Hawksmoor House, luxurious country retreat

Now is the time when overseas guests would be booking holidays, or weddings and other special events at beautiful SA venues, says Mark.

“We are told that January could be the ‘open up date’  but the whole world knows that South Africa has banned alcohol and cigarette sales. The bans strike out a large majority of potential visitors who would love to tour around the Cape, and beyond, take advantage of world class restaurants and guesthouses, but know they cannot enjoy a glass of lovely South African wine on their holiday.”

Mark says it feels like our tourist industry has been “sent to the slaughter, and thousands of lives are affected by this”.

“If a government can find ways to allow church services, then they can surely find a way to allow sensible level-headed people of all races, creeds or colour to enjoy a glass of wine together safely.”

Hawksmoor House, sensational event venue in the Cape winelands

He adds: “The millions of rand lost in tax revenue could certainly have gone towards specifically targeted police units to give instant response to victims of the tragically, ever-present alcohol-related abuse and violence. But this knee jerk reaction of a total ban is punishing this economy far more than ever surely intended.”

Mark has lost someone very close to the coronavirus and certainly does not under-estimate the deadly risks the pandemic poses but, he says, “the loss of jobs really cost lives too”.

“South Africa is losing billions of rand and thousands of jobs and international investment that may never return. If the rest of the world can find a balance so too can South Africa.”

Whether or not you agreed with South Africa’s unusual ban on the sale of alcohol as part of government action to stop the spread of Covid-19, the time has surely come for a rethink.

Even Dr Glenda Gray, the president and chief executive of the South African Medical Research Council, has called for a review of the ban. She was reported to have said the ban had achieved its objective and government should start planning to lift it, as well as look at the ban’s impact on livelihoods.

Hawksmoor Estate

As Mark says, we have long passed the point where the damage to people’s lives and decimation of their livelihoods that is the direct result of the ban can be justified by any benefit being achieved by the ban on booze sales.

Mark will be sending an offer soon with great discounts and free delivery to Cape Town and the Winelands for orders taken during this current lockdown but to be delivered and paid for when the law allows. You are welcome to mail him direct, if you would like to be included: [email protected]

Below is the letter Kobus van der Merwe, chef-proprietor of Wolfgat restaurant in Paternoster, wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa on July 27 with photos from Kobus’s Facebook post.

Cyril Ramaphosa and staff at Wolfgat restaurant

Your excellency, President Cyril Ramaphosa

We think back fondly to the day of your visit to Wolfgat restaurant in December 2019. What an amazing honour it was for team Wolfgat, and the Paternoster community, to welcome you to our village.

We were excited yet nervous about the protocol of hosting a statesman. Communication from your team was that we should do everything as normally as possible since you wanted to enjoy the full Wolfgat experience.

Sensational views from a table at Wolfgat

We could barely contain our excitement and pride while setting ‘Table 1’, our best table, overlooking the Paternoster bay, knowing we were preparing it for the president and five other guests.

I was thrilled when you decided to opt for the wine pairing since I double as ‘wine waiter’. This meant I had the privilege of spending a little more time tableside, interacting with you and your lovely family. The atmosphere at the table was jovial and relaxed, full of friendly banter. I had to pinch myself that this once in a lifetime moment – hosting our president at my table – was indeed real.

Throughout the afternoon’s wine service you kept me on my toes, repeatedly informing me in jest that one of the young women at the table – a friend of the family, it seemed – was extremely knowledgeable about wine and also a world record holder (I suppose in reference to our title of “World Restaurant of the Year” for 2019). You chuckled and said I ought to be nervous. (Of course I was nervous!) We all laughed. 

After I introduced the wine for the main course you joked and asked if one could taste “sunshine” in the wine. And you shared a wonderful anecdote of an acquaintance of yours diffusing some pretentious wine tasting ceremony laced with jargon, by proclaiming that the wine being analysed tasted of “sunshine”.

Following the dessert course we asked you if it would be possible to take a selfie with the restaurant team, and you smiled warmly and agreed. 

You stood next to me at the kitchen pass and paused for a moment to listen to the music playing in the restaurant. You said you loved that we have Miles Davis on the playlist. (We love that you love Miles Davis!)

Cyril Ramaphosa and Team Wolfgat

You spoke to me and the team about our achievement of World Restaurant of the Year 2019 and how proud you and the country were of us for this international accomplishment. Our hearts were swollen with pride. On the photograph of you posing with team Wolfgat in our small kitchen, you can see all of us beaming.

As you were about to leave, you spotted the World Restaurant Award’s trophy on display at the Wolfgat front door. You excitedly suggested that we should take a selfie together posing with the trophy. It was taken on your phone. I’m still hoping to get a copy of that photo of us standing in the Wolfgat doorway, holding the heavy trophy. It was a “World Cup” moment for Wolfgat. 

During the course of lunch, some fans and curious passers-by had assembled outside the restaurant hoping to catch a glimpse of you, or to shake your hand. 

Although you were on holiday and had just enjoyed a relaxing, intimate and very private lunch with your family, eating Strandveld food and drinking the best local wine from the finest small producers in the Swartland, you still had the time and energy to graciously address the small crowd outside Wolfgat, making friendly conversation and posing for selfies. I was in awe of this respectful gesture. One of the couples dining at Wolfgat that day asked for a picture with you and you obliged. They came back into the restaurant crying and said “he is SO nice!”

Leaving Paternoster you stopped your entire convoy and got out of your official vehicle to buy fruit from our seasonal fruit stall run by Fairoez Solomon Adams. 

All of this, after enjoying a multi-course tasting menu paired with a selection of different wines. 

Cyril Ramaphosa and Kobus van der Merwe at Wolfgat

Mr President, like our fellow South African restaurants, we serve alcohol responsibly at Wolfgat. And on the day of your visit we couldn’t be more proud to showcase to you a range of proudly South African wines from world class small producers, alongside our seven courses of seasonal West Coast dishes.

For us wine is integral to the meal we present at Wolfgat. If we can’t serve wine we cannot give our patrons our full, internationally acknowledged restaurant experience. Not to mention losing out on significant revenue.

We have been in full support of the drastic measures implemented during the current pandemic, and were among the first to close our restaurant doors – even before the national lockdown – in order to aid in flattening the curve.

Since reopening for sit-down meals last week, at only half our usual capacity, we adhere to screening of staff and guests, strict distancing, mask-wearing and uncompromising sanitary protocols to keep our team and our guests safe, and to curb the spread of this deadly virus.

But Mr President, we are begging you to please help the restaurant and wine industries by lifting the blanket ban on alcohol and relaxing the 21:00 curfew. With these restrictive measures in place, we are struggling to keep afloat and it is severely impacting the livelihoods of our teams and our families and our communities.

We dream about the next “once in a lifetime” opportunity to host someone of your stature at Wolfgat. But like many of our colleagues, we’re not sure if our restaurant will survive to ever see that day.

Best regards,
Kobus van der Merwe,
Wolfgat, Paternoster

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